BOC approves purchase of drones for Henry police

By Monroe Roark
Times Correspondent

Henry County’s law enforcement efforts will soon include air support.

The Board of Commissioners approved the purchase of two unmanned aircraft vehicles (UAV), commonly known as drones, for use by the Henry County Police Department. The $18,661.16 cost will be covered by the federal asset forfeiture and seized funds account, and part of that cost includes training and assorted qualification requirements.

In 2015 the department handled 10 incidents “for critical missing and missing persons with mental health issues expending resources from the county and/or surrounding aerial support,” according to a staff report.

Along with several other agencies, the HCPD spent more than 500 man-hours searching for an escaped prisoner. There were also 27 fatality accidents with 29 victims last year that resulted in roadways being closed for long periods of time and hundreds of man-hours spent investigating, photographing and sketching scenes. These are among the kinds of operations for which the new UAVs will be useful, officials said.

The county has utilized air support from surrounding agencies like Spalding, Clayton and DeKalb at various times, but getting that help is sometimes slow or not feasible. Technology such as a UAV is “inexpensive, easier to maneuver and quicker to deploy than helicopters,” according to the HCPD.

The more expensive of the two vehicles will have the ability to use thermal imaging and infrared technology as well as a full-color camera. The other device will be used as a training tool and a secondary unit for simultaneous operations.

The vehicles can fly 25-28 minutes at a time but can also hover in one location that entire time, unlike helicopters, and will automatically return to their previously programmed location if remote control capability is lost for any reason.

They will be used almost solely for “defensive purposes,” as one official put it, noting that using them for investigative purposes would require a search warrant due to state laws in place regarding eavesdropping and peeping.

The primary uses outlined in the department’s presentation to the board included search-and-rescue operations such as Amber Alert or Mattie’s Call; tactical deployment for hostage and barricade situations; a visual perspective to help with crowd control, traffic incident management and special circumstances; and documenting an incident scene.

Included in the cost is eight hours of on-site training and professional services pertaining to qualifications. HCPD personnel will be authorized to operate them vehicles under FAA regulations.

In other business, the board approved a request by the Henry County Fire Department for the purchase of two pumper fire trucks. The cost, including delivery, was reported at $753,125. County officials identified the equipment as a critical need and said more would have been purchased if the funds were available.

A $2,282,000 bid for construction of a new fire station in the Kelleytown area of Henry County was also approved. The move was welcomed by Commissioner Blake Prince, who said that some homeowners in his district have seen their insurance costs triple in the past ten years. Proximity to fire stations is a factor in determining homeowner insurance rates. The new station, expected to be completed in July of 2017, will be located adjacent to the newly-developed Bud Kelley Park.